Yoni Mozeson
FInding God's hiding places

The indomitable spirit of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai – Bechukotai

I would like to focus on a very unique aspect of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and it’s based on the unfathomable difference of opinion in the Talmud of whether the Torah will be (God forbid) forgotten from the Jewish people or not. On one side of the argument you have Rav Huna in the name of Rav and the Rabbis who said the Torah would be forgotten. On the other side you have the lonely, formidable voice of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who declares: “Heaven forbid that the Torah should be forgotten from the Jewish people..” (Shabbat 138b-139a).*

What’s really fascinating is that the prooftext that the Rabbis bring to argue that the Torah will indeed be forgotten is a beautifully inspiring verse from Amos. You’ve probably heard it as a heartfelt song from many famous, contemporary Jewish musicians**.
הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם ה׳ אֱלֹקים וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶּחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַּיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמוֹעַ אֵת דִּבְרֵי ה׳

Behold, the days are coming when there’ll be a famine in the land. Not a famine for bread, not a thirst for water, but a thirst to hear {understand} the words of God (Amos 8:11)*. How could these beautiful words be a dire prediction? Of course, the very next verse says,  וְלֹא יִמְצָאוּ “…And they won’t find it.” That’s why the Rabbis say that the Torah will be forgotten. According to Rashi this means that we will not find a Jewish law recorded without a difference of opinion.  Many commentators on the book of Amos says that these verses allude to the loss of prophecy. 

Perhaps Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai looked at this beautiful verse and felt that it can’t be a dire prediction. If God brings about a miraculous time in which people are searching for the knowledge of God, they will surely find it. Rather, he suggests that they won’t find it in one place.* For example, if someone was interested in Talmud, Jewish law, Midrash, and Zohar, there will not be one single Torah scholar you can go to. This can be viewed as a blessing in disguise as the prophet is describing an era when people will have a thirst for so many aspects of Torah.

The blessing of the land of Israel’s desolation

It takes a special sensitivity to spot a blessing in disguise. A good example is in Parshat Bechukosei. Within the terrible ‘rebuke’ (תוכחה) and descriptions that seem to predict the  Holocaust, there is a verse that can be taken in a positive light. 

וַהֲשִׁמֹּתִ֥י אֲנִ֖י אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְשָֽׁמְמ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ אֹֽיְבֵיכֶ֔ם הַיֹּשְׁבִ֖ים בָּֽהּ׃

I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it” (Vayikra, 26,32).

The verse emphasized just how much the Land of Israel will be destroyed. Yet Rashi points out that this is actually a blessing:

. זוֹ מִדָּה טוֹבָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁלֹּא יִמְצְאוּ הָאוֹיְבִים נַחַת רוּחַ בְּאַרְצָם, שֶׁתְּהֵא שׁוֹמֵמָה מִיּוֹשְׁבֶיהָ

This is advantageous to the Jewish People in that the enemies won’t find any tranquility in their land {Israel} therefore it will remain desolate (Rashi on Vayikra, 26,32).

This, of course. is exactly what happened. The Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, and the Ottomans all failed miserably in efforts to settle the land of Israel. Rather, God arranged it that the land of Israel waited for the Jewish people. This is confirmed in a famous quote from Mark Twain based on what he witnessed about 150 years ago while traveling in Palestine: 

“ is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes, desolate and unlovely.” 

In character with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai 

Of course, this fits very beautifully with who Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was. As we know, the Romans had put out a death sentence on him and he escaped to a cave with his son. He spent 13 years learning the secrets of the Torah – what we call now the Kabbalah or the Zohar. He brought this tremendous light into the world. A  light that helped the Jewish people through some of our darkest times. That’s one of the reasons why we light bonfires.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was able to take a Roman death threat that sent him and his son into hiding, and turn it into a great blessing revealing secrets of the Torah. So it should not be surprising that he was able to find the great blessing in the prophecy of Amos.  Even though the verses described the dark times of the second Temple period, he was able to look at them and see the great thirst for Torah at the end of days.  And he knew for sure that we will indeed never forget the Torah.

*תּוֹרָהדְּאָמַר רַב: עֲתִידָה תּוֹרָה שֶׁתִּשְׁתַּכַּח מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְהִפְלָא ה׳ אֶת מַכֹּתְךָ״, הַפְלָאָה זוֹ אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ מַהִי. כְּשֶׁהוּא אוֹמֵר: ״לָכֵן הִנְנִי יוֹסִיף לְהַפְלִיא אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה הַפְלֵא וָפֶלֶא״הֱוֵי אוֹמֵר: הַפְלָאָה זוֹ תּוֹרָה.

“With regard to Torah, {Rav Huna related that} Rav said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people. It is stated “And God will make your plagues astonishing, (Devarim, 28:59). This term of astonishment, I do not know what it is. But when the verse states {elsewhere}: “Therefore, behold, I will continue to astonish this people with wondrous astonishment, {and the wisdom of its wise will be lost, and the understanding of its men of understanding shall be hidden}” (Yishayahu, 29:14), you must say: This astonishment is referring to forgetting the Torah.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: כְּשֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ לַכֶּרֶם בְּיַבְנֶה אָמְרוּ, עֲתִידָה תּוֹרָה שֶׁתִּשְׁתַּכַּח מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם ה׳ אֱלֹקים וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶּחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַּיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמוֹעַ אֵת דִּבְרֵי ה׳״, וּכְתִיב: ״וְנָעוּ מִיָּם עַד יָם וּמִצָּפוֹן וְעַד מִזְרָח יְשׁוֹטְטוּ לְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת דְּבַר ה׳ וְלֹא יִמְצָאוּ״.

“The Sages taught ‘When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavne, they said: ‘The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated: “Behold, days are approaching, says the Lord God, and I will send forth a hunger in the land, not a hunger for bread and not a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of God” (Amos 8:11). And it states: “And they will drift from sea to sea, and from north to east they will roam to find the word of God, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12)

״דְּבַר ה׳״זוֹ הֲלָכָה, ״דְּבַר ה׳״זֶה הַקֵּץ, ״דְּבַר ה׳״זוֹ נְבוּאָה.

“The word of the Lord” in this context bears many meanings. “The word of the Lord”; that is halacha. “The word of the Lord”; that is the end of days. “The word of the Lord”; that is prophecy. All these will be lost from the Jewish people.

תַּנְיָא, רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַי אוֹמֵר: חַס וְשָׁלוֹם שֶׁתִּשְׁתַּכַּח תּוֹרָה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי 

   זַרְעוֹ״. אֶלָּא מָה אֲנִי מְקַיֵּים ״יְשׁוֹטְטוּ לְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת דְּבַר ה׳ וְלֹא יִמְצָאוּ״? שֶׁלֹּא יִמְצְא

הֲלָכָה בְּרוּרָה וּמִשְׁנָה בְּרוּרָה בִּמְקוֹם אֶחָד

Rabbi Shimon ben Yocḥai says: Heaven forbid that the Torah should be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it says: “And this song shall answer to him as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from his seed” (Devarim, 31:21). Rather, how do I explain: “They will roam to find the word of God, but they will not find it”? It means that they will not find clear Halacha and clear teaching together, but rather there will be disputes among the Sages (Shabbat 138b-139a).”

** Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Ishay Ribo and my personal favorite, Dveykus,

About the Author
(Almost 100 Midrash Video summaries can be found on my youtube playlist: After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Related Topics
Related Posts